There are many things to consider when it comes to buying work boots, but one of the most overlooked aspects of such process is the outsoles. Many people miss the fact that wearing a work boot with the wrong outsole type can result in various serious issues, such as slips and falls, foot pain, short life span, and even damages outside the normal wear and tear such as melting due to heat. The following is all the information you would need to get yourself a good pair of premium and comfortable work boots with the proper outsole for your needs.
Advantages of Work Boots Outsoles
Having the proper outsoles on your work boots will give you several advantages, including the points mentioned below.
Slip-resistant work boots with good outsoles are designed with textured surface to give them traction and resistance to slippery floors that may be caused by oil spills or other viscous substances. You will have a better chance of staying safe and protected from slipping and falling incidents so you can stand and walk confidently at your work locations.
Comfort and Support
Premium outsoles are usually solid so they are able to offer a rigid support to your feet. You will not only feel comfortable as you move but also you will feel less fatigue throughout your activities. The firm support provided by the outsoles also reinforces the functions of other components of your work boots, such as the toe protector and the ankle support.
Outsoles made of high-quality materials usually are waterproof to keep your feet dry inside in wet working conditions. This also means that it has a higher resistance to moisture to help prevent your feet from getting sweaty under hot or humid weather. Because of this, your work boots will feel more comfortable to use even when you have a long day of work ahead of you.
Resistance Against Punctures
Depending on the construction and material, proper outsoles can protect you against punctures and penetrations of sharp objects such as glass shards or small nails that comes from below. For examples, when they wear work boots with outsoles, construction workers will be protected as they walk through job sites that are often filled with objects strewn across the floor. This is a very beneficial property that reiterates how important it is to choose the right outsole for your own working conditions.
Types of Outsoles for Work Boots
In general, there are two different types of outsoles used for work boots, classified by their design or shape. You will find either a standard or traditional heel or a wedge sole on work boots sold commercially right now. Both are designed to keep you comfortable and safe, but each has their own advantages and uses. To find the right type of outsole for you personally, you need to understand the difference of both types as well as their strengths and weaknesses.
Characterized by thick soles and the obvious heel stack, the versatile design of the standard or traditional heels have been popular among blue collar workers in the early 1900s. This is the more common and the most versatile type of outsoles. It is suitable for nearly all kinds of works, such as electricians, construction, and many more. As for the design, a traditional outsole is flat at the front and it fully makes contact with the ground, followed by a gap in the middle of the sole to support the arch and a thick platform on the back to support the heel. This type of outsole typically has intricately designed tread pattern, thus, it provides you with excellent traction in various environments and terrains. Moreover, while the thickness varies by manufacturer, traditional outsoles tend to be durable and are known to last for years with proper maintenance. As for its drawbacks, this type of heel tends to be quite bulky and heavy. Work boots with standard outsoles weigh more than five pounds on average, which can feel a bit much at the end of the work day. Due to these weight and thickness, you may initially have stability issues, especially on uneven surfaces. Another shortcoming of the traditional outsole is that the design creates two distinct pressure points located at the heel and the ball of the foot. Workers who are active on their feet may feel fatigue and strain on the calves after a long day of work.
First worn by ironworkers due to the stability provided its flat bottom when walking on iron bars, wedge outsoles now has also become a fashion statement. After all, one of the reasons wedge soles began to be used by workers on job sites is because they look sleeker and more modern compared to the traditional style. Work boots with wedge soles look a bit like sports sneakers, making you look more stylish at work. Characterized by the distinct wedge shape, the entire sole makes contact with the ground during movements instead of the raised arch of the standard heel. The heel area of this type of outsole is also thicker to give you some lift, but the front part is raised and tapers down to the ball of the foot. Another contrasting difference with traditional outsoles is that wedge soles have relatively simple treads. Because of this, they are less bulky, lighter, and more flexible than their counterpart. This feels a lot more comfortable and stable to wear, helping you to avoid potential tripping hazards. Not to mention, there are no pressure points in this type of outsole as all pressure during impact are distributed evenly throughout the sole. As a result, you will have less fatigue and lower overall body discomfort. The absence of thick lugs also means you will be less likely to track dirt or mud and the outsole will be easier to clean and maintained.
However, this does also mean that you will get less grip or traction. That is why wedge outsoles are best worn on relatively flat and dry terrain. Wet working conditions and tougher environments may prove to be problematic for this type of outsole. Another drawback that needs to be considered is the ruggedness of this outsole. The soles are noticeably thinner compared to those of standard outsoles and so, the level of durability is somewhat lessened. The soles will wear out faster, so you might have to replace the outsole more frequently.
Other than their design and shape, outsoles for work boots can also be classified according to its construction and tread pattern.
Outsoles Types Based on Their Construction
There are three ways outsoles can be constructed onto the work boots: cemented, welted, and directly attached. A cement construction bonds the outsole to the upper using a strong adhesive and it is the strongest type of outsole construction. It is also quite durable and comfortable to use. When the outsole is sewn onto the upper, it is called a Goodyear Welt construction. It is the most complicated and the most durable construction method for outsoles and it is the most durable. Another advantage is that you can re-sole work boots made with Goodyear Welt construction, so it is convenient. However, less and less safety footwear is made this way due to cost, comfort, and efficiency reasons. The last construction method is the direct attach. In this method, the outsole is injected to the upper while it is still in a liquid state and then left to set and dry. While this is the weakest and least durable type of outsole construction, it is also the most comfortable to wear.
Outsoles Types Based on The Tread Pattern
Because the outsole is the part of your work boots that comes into direct contact with the ground, the pattern on its surface will play a role in determining its performance. Tread patterns can range from smooth with shallow or wavy ridges to deep and aggressive with cleat-like shapes and hard, sharp edges. There are four distinct categories of tread patterns to choose from: Vibram lugs, air bobs, shallow treads, and athletic or hiking patterns. Vibram lug outsoles are suitable for challenging terrains such as rocks, clay, or dry dirt. They are hard with sharp outer edge so the outsole can dig into hard surfaces and inclines. Meanwhile, outsoles with rounded knobs pattern on its surface is called air bob outsoles. It is quite versatile in a variety of terrains thanks to the hollow core that flexes when it comes into contact with the ground, acting as an independent gripping claw that provides solid traction. For outdoor workers that deal with mud, grass, and other slippery surfaces on a daily basis, the shallow tread outsole is perhaps the most suitable for the job. The outsole has a thin, wavy pattern so it can still provide sufficient traction without picking up dirt. However, this tread pattern is not suitable for work on steep terrains. The last tread pattern is called the athletic pattern as it is most commonly found in athletic shoes outsole. It is characterized by the omni-directional pattern with decent traction and a shallow grip. It is a good choice as an all-purpose type of shoes.
The Use of Various Outsoles for Work Boots
Different outsoles are more suitably used in different working environment. The distinction is usually made based on the materials used to construct the outsole. Below are some of the most frequently used materials for outsoles in work boots along with their appropriate uses.
Stands for Thermoplastic Urethane, TPU is the jack of all trades when it comes to outsoles for work boots. These days, most work boots come standard with TPU outsoles. It is an enhanced form of polyurethane or PU that is a lot more superior in terms of durability. It is quite flexible yet lightweight and has excellent abrasion resistance. This type of outsole is suitable to be used in work environments of up to 266°F, which means it is not highly resistant to heat. However, this material won’t turn rigid in low temperatures down to -4°F and it is suitable for work involving oil and chemicals as it has premium slip resistance. All of these qualities make TPU outsoles cost a bit more than those made with cheaper materials, but work boots made with this material can be suitably used in many different work sites, indoors and outdoors, as long as the temperatures are not too extreme.
As a thermoplastic material, PVC is another form of rubber. This type of outsole is great for work involving chemical agents like acid. It also does well in a wide range of temperatures, starting from -4°F to 212°F. Though it has commendable resistance to abrasion, its slip resistance property is not as good as TPU outsoles. However, unlike TPU material, PVC can last for a long time when it is not used or sitting in the storage.
Work boots with outsoles made of this material is mainly used in mining, welding, engineering, and other types of work involving hot objects or hot environments. This is because nitrile has extreme heat tolerance, up to 572°F. Not only that, this outsole is also superior against oil and chemicals such as alkali and mild acids. It can even protect against excess static electricity, slipping and falling, splitting and cracking, as well as punctures. However, all these premium qualities usually come at a premium price, as well. This material is also more on the rigid side, and as it is less commonly used compared to others like TPU, it may not be available in a style that you like.
While TPU, PVC, and Nitrile are also considered forms of rubber, work boots with rubber outsole are generally constructed from a type of latex called vulcanized caoutchouc. This material is also quite commonly used and about as popular as work boots with TPU outsole. Rubber outsoles are exceptionally sturdy and durable. Just like nitrile outsoles, they are extremely resistance to heat, up to 572°F. While it can withstand cold working environments down to -22°F, the outsole will become less flexible when put under such temperatures. Rubber outsoles are also heavier compared to TPU and nitrile, though it has the upper hand when it comes to storage longevity, puncture and penetration resistance, water resistance, and traction on slippery surfaces. Outsoles made with rubber also have resistance to microbes, a property that is not provided by other materials.
Injected Molded Outsole
This term refers to the outsole that are constructed with the direct injection method so it comes in various densities. Not all materials can be injection molded, and the most common one used for this method is plastic materials such as polyurethane and its derivatives. In mono density PU outsole, there is only one density of material injected to form the outsole. Work boots with this type of outsole is lightweight, comfortable, and has a good resistance against slipping and chemical agents such as hydrocarbon. However, it is quite soft and cannot protect against strong acids, so it is not recommended for outdoor work and extreme environments. PU/PU outsole comes in a double-density profile.
It has a lot of the good attributes of mono density PU outsoles, such as the resistance to chemicals, strong impact absorption, and comfort for long-term wear. The main difference is the resistance against temperatures. PU/PU outsoles have a slightly greater temperature tolerance, ranging from -4°F to 302°F. Last but not least is the PU/TPU outsole, which is a combination of two different materials. It is flexible, sturdy, and greatly resistant to abrasion. Compared to the previous two, this outsole is superior in terms of durability and protection against slipping and cold temperature, but it has lower tolerance to high temperatures so it is not suitable for work that involve coming into contact with hot surfaces.
Which work boot outsole is right for me?
The best outsole you can get for your work boots is the one most appropriate for your job and work environment. People who have to stay on their feet for a long period of time, such as a cook or those in the manufacturing industry, may find more comfort wearing wedge outsoles. Work boots with this type of outsole are also suitable for those working with paving as the shallow tread patterns make the work boots easier to clean and maintain. As for the traditional outsole, it is most commonly used among construction workers, electrician, and line workers as its versatile design can protect you in a wide range of work conditions. The deep treads and thick outsole are suitable for even rough terrains so you can navigate your way without any problems.
What is hydrolysis and how does it affect outsoles on work boots?
While PU makes for a light, flexible outsole and is considered a good material for shoes, one of the main challenges of this material is to deal with its ageing and deterioration called hydrolysis. It is a chemical breakdown, accelerated by warmth and high humidity, that cause the PU outsole to crack and crumble. This process usually takes several years to occur but will happen more quickly in confined spaces and tropical climates. Therefore, it is recommended not to leave your work boots with PU outsoles in the locker and keep it dry at all times.
How should I care for the outsole portion of my work boots?
With a shoe brush or an old toothbrush, gently brush any dirt or dust away when the outsoles are dry. Then, wash the outsoles with lukewarm water and colorless, mild soap solution. For rubber boots, soap containing glycerin will help to keep the material supple. If there are some hard-to-remove dirt left, dip the toothbrush in the soap solution and brush the outsoles with circular movements until they are clean. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the outsoles and let dry naturally in a well-ventilated area.
Can I glue my outsoles back on if they get detached?
While there are several strong adhesives out there for outsoles, it is not recommended to use them for work boots or safety shoes as it will compromise the protection offered by the outsoles and the shoes. If the outsoles of your work boots come off, the best thing you can do is to buy a new pair of work boots and choose your outsoles carefully by reviewing the information in this article.
Because work boots play a pivotal role in your overall performance and comfort on the job, taking the time to select the proper pair of work boots that are suitable for your needs can make all the difference in the world. Many novice workers missed to take note of one of the most crucial parts of their work boots: the outsole. Not using the right type of outsole for your work boots can bring you a lot of problems, such as discomfort, increased risk of falling, short durability, and even damage that extends beyond the normal wear and tear. But as long as you choose high-quality outsoles and work boots, you will be able to perform your work satisfactorily.
You need to first determine the nature of your work and what kinds of challenges you face each day. Also, knowing what you need most out of your work boots will help you choose what kind of outsole you should get. Do you need more comfort or iron-clad protection? Do you work with hazardous materials or a lot of debris that could puncture your feet? Answering all of these questions will bring you to a couple of viable outsole options that will fit your work condition as well as your preference in work boots.